It takes a village, but the village objects

Quick disclaimer before I write this blog: To date I am very happy with the education that my children have received at their school.

Over the past few weeks I have heard a number of very disturbing stories. Keep in mind, if you will, that I grew up outside of the U.S. in a place where tuition for religious schools consisted of something called a “voluntary contribution”, and did not amount to much monetarily. Of course, in Ireland, England, and much of Europe, there is a mandated national curriculum that all schools must follow, regardless of religious affinity and regardless of being public or private.

Judaism requires parents to educate their children in Torah. In today’s age of educational institutions, for many Jews this means sending their child to a Jewish Day School. We chose our children’s school, because in addition to being in accordance with our family’s religious beliefs, the school is extremely Zionist and ingrains in the kids a love of Israel.

The cost of sending a child to this school averages out at about $15,000 per child, per year at an elementary level.

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Some families have chosen to remove their children from religious  day schools and to send them to public school, employing tutors after school to educate their kids in religion and Hebrew. The new (to Florida) Ben Gamla charter school system has been pretty successful so far. Those kids going to Ben Gamla learn Hebrew as part of their day, and religious education is after school hours. Ben Gamla is opening in Boynton in the fall, and there are plans underway to open one in Boca the following year. And that should be very,very interesting.

Why? Because the most disturbing story that I heard recently, is that our school wishes to end financial aid completely within the next few years. Apparently there are a group of parents who pay full tuition, G-d Bless them, who are angry at the  notion that they are paying not only for their kids, but also for other kids to get a Jewish education. They believe that “poor” kids do not deserve this excellent Jewish education. The “poor” kids should go to public school, whether it is the local public school, or a Ben Gamla charter school. While I understand their frustration at having the financial burden of the community on their shoulders, where is their “Ahavat Yisrael”? Their “love for all Israel(ites)”? Surely, as part of this, they should be happy that they can contribute to those less fortunate.

What’s the big deal you say? Who cares if a bunch of wealthy people don’t want to pay for the not-so-wealthy kids to go to school? Put your kids in Ben Gamla, let them learn Hebrew, and then tailor a Judaics learning system to suit them at home. Well yes, but on the other hand, you see, the Rabbi of our community has been extremely vocal over the last year or so about the importance of keeping our children in the Jewish Day School system. He has gone so far as saying that money for tuition should come before anything else. And that Ben Gamla should NOT be an option. Perhaps he doesn’t realize that there are families locally who struggle to put food on their tables every day? Or that there are families who will lose their homes because the mortgage has not been paid. What, in the end, is more important? Keeping a roof over your head and food on the table (and remember, kosher food is more expensive), or keeping your child in a Jewish Day School that only wants paying families?

Shabbat Shalom.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Daniel Katz
    Jun 07, 2011 @ 16:53:45

    Dear Vanessa,

    I am the proud president of Hillel Day School. I must tell you that I am APPALLED at all the MISINFORMATION you are spreading in your blog!

    First of all, I will make it CRYSTAL CLEAR…we don’t want to lose 1 Jewish soul to public schools, including to a Ben Gamla school! I feel TERRIBLE that only about 10 per cent of all Jewish children in the U.S. go to Jewish Day Schools; I wish they all did!

    I don’t know where you heard that we plan on ending all financial aid in the next few years??!! That is categorically untrue! We will NEVER END financial aid! Now for the FACTS:Our annual financial aid awards have skyrocketed from about $500,000 in the past to OVER $1,500,000 this past year, at the same time that our annual donations to the school have gone from over $1,000.000 in the past to just over $400,000 this year. In addition, our annual allocation from our Federation (for which we are VERY GRATEFUL) has decreased from about $400,000 to about $200,000! Two years ago we slashed our costs by OVER $700,000 to try to adjust to the new realities. ALL employees’ salaries were cut by 2%-6%, we no longer have a librarian and other positions were eliminated and unfortunately, we had to cut some of the benefits that our wonderful teachers and staff deserve (like disability insurance and matching their contribution to their pensions)!

    We engaged a specialist at Yeshiva University to analyze our costs and our income to see if our economics were in line with other comparable Jewish Day Schools around the country, taking into consideration facts like location and size of the schools. Their findings were interesting and we are attempting to respond to their conclusions. They found that our tuition and costs, including our salaries, were in line, but that we had 3 problem areas. Our Special Needs program was costing us too much as we lost over $100,000 last year in that program, the percentage of families on Financial Aid was too high (we are at about 48% and it should be about 35%) and that the amount of aid that we awarded was about $3500 more per family than it should be.

    I also want to clarify another point you misrepresented. We will CONTINUE to BEND OVER BACKWARDS to accommodate the financial crises that plague too many of our families. The problem has been that we have awarded scholarships that, according to the Yeshiva University experts, are TOO GENEROUS and then the recipients don’t pay!! We have families whose full tuition is $60,000, we discount it to $20,000, which is agreed to by the parents, and they pay $2000 ALL YEAR!!! What should we do? Believe me, we sent out the letters to the families who are in arrears with a heavy heart. These are families who have been behind most, if not all, of the year. No creditor is kinder and more compassionate than Hillel Day School! We have been EXTREMELY accommodating to all of our families! We are happy to make arrangements for these families to catch up.

    To say that “we simply don’t care” if we lose these families is INSULTING! You are a parent in our GREAT school. I am SURE that you see how much LOVE we shower on your children. That love is not coincidental. We take the privilege of educating your children very seriously. We shower them with love because that is the TORAH way. We treat EVERY family in the same menschlach way that we treat your children.

    You also GROSSLY MISREPRESENTED what Rabbi Goldberg said! NO ONE is more in tuned with, sympathetic and HELPFUL to, the personal situations of the families in need than Rabbi Goldberg! He NEVER said that “money for tuition should come before anything else!” Shame on you! He said that money for tuition should come before money for Starbucks and CRUISES and fancy cars and living at a standard of living greater than your income! Of COURSE, money for food for your tables and mortgage payments should come before Day School tuition!

    For those people who received contracts already, OF COURSE, we will honor them. We are going through a transition between 2 business managers and that caused a misunderstanding for which we apologize.


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